I Don’t Know Any Programmers

Startups may begin with great ideas, but they usually come to life with great teams.  But what if we don’t know anyone to make up these teams?

A lot of us don’t have the technical talent to build startups on our own– perhaps the scope of the project may be too much for us to handle, or maybe we’d be better at marketing and sales over coding.  Whatever it is, great startups need great teams, and whether you’re looking for a technical co-founder or another programmer to jump on board–you may have a tough time finding the right candidates.

In 2009 I began my first startup.  I was a designer and marketing guy at heart, but tried to develop my idea by learning Ruby on Rails from scratch.  Lets just say I failed miserably and was desperately looking for someone to help me out.  But I didn’t have any programmers in my network and I wasn’t looking to hire anyone (I just didn’t have money for that at the time)

So I took this all as a business challenge.  I asked myself: could I meet, recruit, and retain programmers?   Could I motivate some of the most skilled and talented programmers that I didn’t know to join my team?  Thankfully, I was successful.  And I think you can too if you start treating your search as a serious challenge.

But this isn’t about me, this is about anyone out there who doesn’t know programmers, has good ideas, but hasn’t challenged themselves enough to start pursuing them to join your startup.

Take meeting programmers, networking, and pitching your ideas all as a challenge to prove yourself as a competent business leader.

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How Blogging Helped Me Find My Co-Founder

One thing I love about smart people is that they enjoy reading.

Luckily for me, I enjoy writing and naturally organize my thoughts in blog posts.  When I was first learning how to code, I’d write about my experiences on my personal blog and some of the more interesting posts would tend to circulate around the Internet.

One day my frustration reached its peak.  I realized that programming was not something that I personally enjoyed and I wrote a long-winded blog post about what I really wanted to do (marketing and business).   I explained how I was using programming as a stepping stone to reach my end goal.

The blog post spread far and wide, programmers all around the world read about my frustrations and began emailing me.  They explained how they knew I was “smart” based on my past blog posts and my ability to write with ease.  I befriended many, and eventually met someone nearby who shared similar passions as I did.  We teamed up and are currently working on a project together.

My point is, it’s pretty cool how blogging can really pay off.  While I met a co-founder, I know there others who have met angels, VC’s, startup lawyers, advisors, and others, just from blogging about interesting things.

So with that, I encourage you to organize your thoughts in to writing.  The easiest way to reach a lot of smart people is to write something that’s interesting and valuable to read.

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What is a non-programmer to do?

We’ve all seen it.  A biz-dev guy with an “amazing” startup idea but they don’t know how to program or code.

It’s always seems the same scenario: they don’t have the skills to make their startup a reality and they can’t find any programmers or web developers to partner with them.  So now they are stuck in a rut, they can’t move any further with their tech product or service because they don’t have the “tech guy” to help build it.  So what is a non-programmer to do?

Try.  Try to build your project on your own.

How many non-programmers have honestly tried to sit down and learn how to code so that they can turn their idea in to a reality?

I ask you this questions because I was once in a similar position.  An idea in my head turned in to an obsession to make it happen; and when I realized people weren’t willing to partner with me at the time (because I had nothing but an idea), I tried to learn how to build it on my own with full force.

My attempt to code my own web app was an invaluable experience that I’m so glad I undertook.  While I am still not comfortable coding complete web apps, the learning process was something that really helped me understand the technology needed to implement my idea and it gave me enough insight to know what I was looking for in a programmer when it was time to find one.

Furthermore, my (semi-successful) attempt to hack together a basic mockup of my site was commended by other programmers.  Like everyone else in life, they liked to see true effort on my own part before I went out asking for help.  They liked that I took ownership over the development of the project despite my inexperience.  I qualified myself by ‘putting in the time’.

So if you’re a business-guy or non-techie trying to make it in the startup world, at least trying to learn how to program is something we all need to do.  Who knows, you might fall in love with it.

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But what if they steal my idea?

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The Non-Programmer’s Dilemma

Non-programmers wanting to create a startup face a major problem: they can’t program. Naturally, you’re going to need to find someone to work with.  As a “non-programmer” (well, I like to call myself the biz/dev guy), I’ve had major trouble proving my worth to programmers & web developers in the past.   Here are two of the major dilemmas that I fell in to when trying to recruit a programmers and web developers to collaborate on ideas with.  Learn from them.

Dilemma #1: We think an idea is enough

Too many inexperienced “biz-guys” believe that the idea is king, and once you have an idea, it just needs to be implemented by some programmers.  This is an extremely unhealthy and simplistic way of looking at things that will probably lead to disaster.  The major hazard with this way of thinking is that the non-programmer will often see themselves as the one who invented the “genius idea” and now they can kick back and let the programmer do the tedious work.  Now, you can do this if you have money to shell out to freelancers, but a lot of us are trying to find partners rather than workers; and if you’d like to do that, you need to offer much more. An idea definitely won’t be enough to get a programmer to sit down and dedicate time to working with you (especially if you’re paying in equity).

Whether it’s clever marketing technique, stellar leadership ability, or great communication skills, you need to find your talents and prove them.  Good ideas are extremely important, but you need to have more than that to attract programmers and web developers to work along side you.

Dilemma #2: We don’t know any programmers

This was a big one for me.  How was I supposed to find programmers who wanted to work with me for equity rather than cash when I didn’t have any programmer friends or acquaintances?  By the time I realized that I had valuable skills, couldn’t completely code my web app by myself, and was truly determined about my vision, I had the most trouble finding good programmers who wanted to work with me.

I worked on this aspect a lot, and a lot of friends have said that I’ve mastered the ‘art’ of attracting programmers.  To be honest with you, it’s no art at all and is a more-so effective communication and marketing yourself well.  Assuming you’ll be the business-end of your startup one day, you’ll need to learn good communication skills, and attracting programmers and web developers is a lot like attracting customers.  You offer them true value that’s hard to refuse, follow up on your promises, and prove yourself when the time comes.  For this dilemma, I have quite a lot to say, and I go in to this in a lot of detail here.

There are many more dilemmas non-programmers fall in to when creating startups.  The truth is, there are a lot of non-programmers out there who think they can make some easy cash being a startup entrepreneur.  Many talented programmers have been approached by these shady ‘entrepreneurs’ and are weary of guys who claim to have great ideas.  So as a non-programmer, your facing a major uphill battle when trying to find programmers to partner with.  Ultimately, my advice to you is to differentiate yourself from them.  You need to offer more.

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